Interview with featured photographer Lauren Grabelle
Lauren Grabelle is a renowned photographer celebrated for her exceptional capture of nature’s beauty. With a profound love for the environment, Grabelle embarked on a photographic journey to showcase the intricate details of the natural world. Her portfolio boasts a stunning array of images, from captivating landscapes to intimate moments in the wild, or people living in the wilderness. Her impact is marked by consistent recognition within the photography community; recently including a CriticalMass TOP 50 award in 2022, and her project ‘The Last Man’ was a winner in the LensCulture international photo competition HOME ’21.
Her work melds a poignant sense of observation with an empathetic approach and mindful presence toward understanding relationships to other people, animals, nature, and ourselves. Grabelle’s projects span a number of different themes – but overall her work creates visual narratives that transcend boundaries, reveals an impish curiosity, and fosters a deeper connection to the Earth.
Lauren’s images featured in F-Stop Issue 123 – Color 2024 come from her series from Mount Aeneas (a summit in Montana). Her images struck us as work which is beautiful to view, but also feels like they are about something. She artfully captures the sort of “majesty” or awe of it all, and what it is like to be present in places such as this.
Cary Benbow (CB): What kind of stories do you wish to tell, or what has inspired you to pursue photography?
Lauren Grabelle (LG): The world around me and my desire to share my experiences inspire me. I’ve been photographing my whole life starting with a Kodak Instamatic when I was 5 and then moving on to SLR’s – my first, a Pentax, given to me by my mother. Eventually I took photography courses in high school, printing in the darkroom, but then eventually I fell in love with Kodachrome. I don’t seek to tell any particular story, as my projects unfold from my life as I live it. But once I see the seeds of something, I will often lean into that and continue.
CB: There are elements of nature, wildlife, landscape, and people’s inclusion or interaction with nature in your work – can we talk about why you choose to depict these elements in the way you do?
LG: These are the moments of my life as I’m living it. There are very few times outside of commissions that I deliberately seek out a story. The only exception I can think of right now is a story I found about a couple living in a remote valley in Montana who created a natural cemetery on their land. The style of any particular project is really dictated by the camera (or film for older projects) that I am using at the time. Many of my recent projects are primarily shot on iPhones (‘Dead Things with Sugar’, ‘Strange Days Woods Bay’, ‘Montana Noir’, and even the majority of ‘The Last Man’ and ‘Ranch Sightings’). My choice to use color or b/w is generally dictated by the subject and, if I’m being honest, the amount of time I might have to do any color correcting. However, the series of my many hikes up Mount Aeneas is mostly shot on either my Nikon D3 or my Z6II. It is certainly less burdensome to hike with a mirrorless camera, but I have always hiked with my DSLR as I can capture more of what I’m trying to share with a full-frame camera and telephoto lens.
Deeper though, is the thought that many recognized photographic series and projects these days are images cloaked in mystery. I have a fear of being misunderstood, so I seek to explain things and show them as they are while still providing something interesting to look at.
CB: Your projects span a number of different themes – but overall I feel your work creates visual narratives that transcend boundaries, are visually and conceptually curious, and foster a deeper connection to the Earth. How does your work featured is this issue relate to your other projects, or how are they significantly different?
LG: I hiked up Mount Aeneas this past October, posted some images from that hike and then followed up with a few posts with a sort of Ode to Mount Aeneas featuring some favorite images I had taken over the years. I had never even seen it as a series: just photos I have taken as I climb to my favorite peak and basin. I suppose I am fairly conscious to take and then show photographs that feel like me and not like someone else. Like you are looking through my portal à la ‘Being John Malkovich’ but luckily you don’t end up on the NJ Turnpike afterward. I love when others see something in my work that I have not, as I work in such an isolated fashion; it is so very helpful. The first time anyone reviewed my work was when my series, ‘Dead Things with Sugar’, was in the Pacific NW Viewing Drawers at Blue Sky Gallery, and the reviewer wrote, “Grabelle saunters along the snowy path, carefree and oblivious to the preconceived constructs of society.” That made my heart sing – someone gets me! So yes, I agree with your assessment of my many and varying projects. I’m a little all over the place, especially as the years roll by, so it is really nice to hear how it all strings together in someone else’s mind and eye.
CB: What or who are your photography inspirations – and if they have qualities you admire/desire, how does that ‘inform’ your own creative process?
LG: As a teen in the late 1950s, my mother assisted the magazine and glamour photographer, Peter Basch (1921-2004), whose work is now represented by Staley Wise Gallery. In my childhood home, just outside my bedroom door in the hallway, were three of his framed prints. Recently these framed prints were sent to me and I realized how strongly my vision was influenced by them, by how they showed me what photographs could be. My mother was also a big influence on me as we were surrounded by her photos of us and she made the most heartfelt photo albums documenting our lives. By high school I was avidly reading American Photo magazine – being introduced to all kinds of great photography and learning more than just the tech from the essays by Vicki Goldberg. It was in the October 1986 issue where I was first introduced to the work of Larry Clark (thanks, Google, for the date). The same year I stumbled across Nan Goldin’s ‘Ballad of Sexual Dependency’ in a bookstore in Puerto Rico. I remember both occasions vividly. Both of them were early inspirations. I wasn’t interested in repeating what they were doing but I think it was the honesty and lack of pretense with which they both shot that impacted me. Today there is so much (too much?) photography that it is overwhelming and hard to pick contemporary artists that are influencing me. I do like to support others in social media but I also try to protect myself from the influences of what others are doing.
CB: If you keep a journal or write about the places and people you see, would you share a meaningful entry?
LG: My photos are my journal. Everything is keyworded and dated, so I can find inspiration and relive my life through my archive. I don’t write. I find it fairly painful, but I do collect quotes that I love. Here are a few favorites:
“I believe that unless a photograph is endowed with the artist’s inner life in equal measure to the world outside, as captured by their camera, then it’s just a postcard.”
~ Sasha Wolf
“It’s all about the unknown – that’s what I look for in pictures of the sea or in landscapes. I’m looking for what it feels like to close one’s eyes and not know.”
~ Nadav Kander
“She’s just constantly looking for the concretization of dreams.”
~ photographer Lee Miller’s son
“Creativity is paradoxical. To create, a person must have knowledge but forget the knowledge, must see unexpected connections in things but not have a mental disorder, must work hard but spend time doing nothing as information incubates, must create many ideas yet most of them are useless, must look at the same thing as everyone else, yet see something different, must desire success but embrace failure, must be persistent but not stubborn, and must listen to experts but know how to disregard them.”
~ Michael Michalko
CB: What advice would you give to someone who wants to take on projects like yours? If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self at the start of your career, what would it be?
LG: Shoot what you love and what you know. And to quote Diane Arbus, “The more specific you are, the more universal you’ll be.” I think this is so incredibly true and always surprising to realize. And to my younger self I say, don’t worry about the end result, just make the work anyway.
To see more work and learn about Lauren Grabelle – http://www.laurengrabelle.com/
Events by Location
- Alternative process
- Artist Talk
- Black and White
- Book Fair
- Car culture
- Film Review
- Gun Culture
- Mental Health
- Street Photography